The Seventh Day in the Octave of Christmas

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/123111.cfm


In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.


Everyone knows about endings and beginnings, and everyone knows about the cycles of life; but we need God's Revelation to show us that our lives with their beginnings and endings fold into the cycles of life. Despite the apparent emptiness of these endless cycles that create hopeful life and remorselessly destroy it, we are moving toward a Fullness that will be entirely satisfying. 
Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, what God has ready for those who love him. 
God's revelation is the Word who became flesh and lived among us. He is the same who, when asked "Where do you live?" said, "Come and see." It's not a place you can study from afar; you have to walk with him to get there, and abide with him even as he abides with us, on the way. 
If we cannot study it from afar with our scientific telescopes, radars and spectrometers, we can hear of it within our hearts and know we belong there. 


As we end a year and enter another, we dedicate ourselves once again to the sacramental life of the Church. Through Baptism, Eucharist, Marriage, Holy Orders (Deacons,Priests and Bishops) Reconciliation, Confirmation, and the Anointing of the Sick we come to know God in our cyclic life. We are sustained by daily prayers, readings, personal sacrifice and gratitude for the opportunity to do something useful. On Tuesday we'll go back to work and school again, refreshed as we always are by the life of grace, and ready to abide in this world with Jesus. 

Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph




A flood plain in Cherokee park
The Lord took Abram outside and said,
"Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can.
Just so," he added, "shall your descendants be."
Abram put his faith in the LORD,
who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.

When Christmas and New Years Day fall on Sunday, the church calendar gets mooshed. The Feast of the Holy Family should fall on the Sunday between the holidays; this year we observe it today, on a Friday. Likewise the feast of the Baptism of the Lord will be squished into Monday, January 9, so that we can begin the “Second Sunday of Ordinary time” on schedule, January 15. (There is no “First Sunday of Ordinary time”, but that’s another story.)

This Feast of the Holy Family is a recent development. The Church, witnessing families destroyed by industrialization, war and changing mores, felt compelled to remind the world of the precious gifts of marriage, children and parents.
Like many priests, I come from an “intact” family. My parents married young and remained married until Dad died in 1980. My mother never remarried; she was quite sure none could replace her one and only husband. Between them there was never a shadow of infidelity or violence. Their integrity has given all of their children “a leg up” in life. There has been only one divorce among the ten of us – and we saw that coming on her wedding day.

Some people might suppose the priests coming from such irenic families might not understand troubled families, but I think it gives us an extraordinary ability. We can often detect pain and disappointment where the sufferers themselves might not be aware of it. I don’t suppose that absentee fathers and mothers are normal, or that parents are “sick” when they’re actually drunk. I don’t expect sexual or emotional violence is normal in every household. I don’t assume that one has never known a happy, safe environment. When someone describes the violence of his upbringing or tells me about his absentee parent I know there is deep pain, even if it is denied or brushed off.
Every child has a right to biological parents who are married to one another and actually love one another and their children. That is more than my opinion; it’s a belief based on solid experience.
Jesus felt the great sadness of our world because his earthly parents were so dedicated to one another. He grew up knowing they would spare no sacrifice for his sake, as they proved when they fled into Egypt to save him from King Herod. If the world was a dangerous place, his home was a safe place where a child could be foolish, playful and occasionally mischievous. Leaving that home he determined to make the world as safe a place as he had known in Nazareth. Because their sacrificial dedication was bred in his bones Jesus would not spare himself as he marched toward Jerusalem.
On this fifth day of Christmas, the world has already moved on to another celebration, but those who love Jesus Christ must pause to honor the Holy Family who gave him to us.


The Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas



Beloved, I am writing no new commandment to you
but an old commandment that you had from the beginning.
The old commandment is the word that you have heard.
And yet I do write a new commandment to you,
which holds true in him and among you,
for the darkness is passing away,
and the true light is already shining.

Scripture scholars tell us Saint Luke was eager to reassure Roman authorities about the Christian movement. Romans looked askance at new religions; they could only mean trouble. A religion that spoke openly of deposing the lofty and raising the lowly was especially suspect. So Saint Luke grounds his narrative of Jesus’ life in the common practices of the Jewish people: he was presented in the temple like any other first born male child; he went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem with his parents, he spoke openly in Jewish synagogues.
Within a very short time, however, the Christian and Jewish religions would be irrevocably split apart to travel their separate paths until the end of time; and the Roman persecutions of Christians began.
In the meanwhile, we saw very clearly from Saint Luke’s account that Jesus has given us “no new commandment ... but an old commandment that (we) had from the beginning. If the new insight of Jesus seemed to sweep away the Jewish past, as the Second Vatican Council seemed to sweep away the old traditions of Catholicism, the Evangelist had to firmly anchor this new covenant (often called a testament) in the old covenant (testament).

But that thought only introduces today’s reflections. The gospel ushers us into the ecstatic joy of God’s entrance to the temple:
Lift up your heads, O gates;
be lifted, you ancient portals,
that the king of glory may enter.
Who is this king of glory?
The LORD, strong and mighty,
the LORD, mighty in war.

Lift up your heads, O gates;
rise up, you ancient portals,
that the king of glory may enter.
Who is this king of glory?
The LORD of hosts, he is the king of glory. (Psalm 24:7)

After the appalling gloom of yesterday’s Feast of the Holy Innocents, we thank God for the welcome Jesus received from the Jews: Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the magi, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon, Anna and all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.

Feast of the Holy Innocents, martyrs

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/122811.cfm


My homily of last year's Feast of the Holy Innocents is quite good. Click here if you'd like to read it. Following is my homily for this year's feast. 


My children, I am writing this to you
so that you may not commit sin.
But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father,
Jesus Christ the righteous one.
He is expiation for our sins,
and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.

Saint Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus is dark; so dark one fears the night might suppress and defeat the morning. Can the birth of the Messiah justify the death of the innocents?
Often, when violence occurs, we blame the wrong people. The beaten wife blames herself for uttering the word that set her husband off. The abused child is told he brought the violence upon himself and believes it. A man commits suicide and family, friends and coworkers blame themselves or one another, but instantly "forgive" the dead. 
Every since World War II people have blamed Pope Pius XII for not speaking out to save the Jews from the Shoah, although the Nazis  took offence at all his irenic gestures and intensified their savage reprisals against Jews, Catholics and Christians. Bishops in Germany urged him to say no more.
Before an overwhelming tsunami of violence such as Herod’s massacre people suppose evil is an irresistible force of nature. It must overwhelm the light; and they blame themselves for setting it off. They conclude that God is to blame for the death of the Innocents. 

During the Easter season we cannot fail to remember the crucifixion of Jesus. His victory would mean nothing without his passion and death. Similarly, at Christmas we remember the death of the innocents. Death and birth, despair and hope, cruelty and kindness, dark and light meet in the mystery of Jesus. If we believe his birth is worth risking even savage reprisals, it’s our Hope that drives us. Despite everything, we see in this darkness a twinkling glimmer of salvation. It will become a star burst of holiness to fill every darkened place with pure energy. 

Feast of Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/122711.cfm


What was from the beginning,
what we have heard,
what we have seen with our eyes,
what we looked upon
and touched with our hands
concerns the Word of life...



The Gospel challenges us in a thousand different way, which is to say it invites us in a hundred thousand ways. Each invitation is a challenge to set aside our foolish opinions, preferences and expectations and "Let God Be God." 
One of those challenge/invitations that leaps out Saint John's epistles and gospel is the flesh and blood reality of grace. The Galilee, Nazareth and Jerusalem of our New Testament are not located in J.R.R Tolkien's Middle-earth. They are identifiable places in our very tactile world, which may be seen, looked upon and touched to this day. 
Some scripture scholars have regarded John's Gospel as the most imaginary of the four gospels; they suggest the incidents, teachings and conversations of Jesus never actually happened but were created by his believing Church. 
However, one of the world's foremost scripture scholars -- Pope Benedict XVI -- differs with those opinions. He finds these recorded conversations and detailed events quite plausible; and argues that the ancient Jerusalem church with its school of rabbis could remember and describe Jesus' presentations in detail many years later. He doesn't suppose that John's long chapters are verbatim accounts of Jesus' words, but they capture the spirit, manner and essence of Jesus' very teachings as he taught them. 
I don't suppose that debate will ever be fully resolved but I welcome the Holy Father's corrective teaching. When some scholars suggest that Jesus' real teachings were not faithfully transmitted by the Church, Pope Benedict insists they were entirely accurate. 
If the apostles failed in their mission, the Gospel has been lost and no one can be saved. The Catholic Church can never accept such an absurd teaching. Rather, 
we have seen it and testify to it
and proclaim to you the eternal life
that was with the Father and was made visible to us
The Gospel abides in our world, even as Jesus abode with Mary and his disciples there in Galilee. It abides in senate halls, shopping malls, homes, jails, battle fields and classrooms. 


Some "spiritual" people would like to create a spirituality which abides in the spiritual world, but not in our world. It is a place accessible to the vivid imagination via mescaline or LSD, dreams or transcendental meditation. We've seen these pseudo-spiritualities before; the gnostics were promoting them long before Jesus was born. 
Saint John assures us we need not enter through these mystical pathways into another dimension of reality to find salvation. As Moses assured his people in the Book of Deuteronomy:
For this command which I am giving you today is not too wondrous or remote for you. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, “Who will go up to the heavens to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may do it?” Nor is it across the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may do it?” No, it is something very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it. (Deuteronomy 30:11-14)
The way of Jesus is really very near, as close as your husband, wife, children or parents. It is as near as your Church and the all-too-human Christians you meet there: 
what we have seen and heard
we proclaim now to you,
so that you too may have fellowship with us;
for our fellowship is with the Father
and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
We are writing this so that our joy may be complete.

Feast of Saint Stephen, protomartyr

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/122611.cfm


R. Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
Be my rock of refuge,
a stronghold to give me safety.
You are my rock and my fortress;
for your name's sake you will lead and guide me.
R. Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
Into your hands I commend my spirit;
you will redeem me, O LORD, O faithful God.
I will rejoice and be glad because of your mercy.
R. Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.




Saint Stephen's feastday always follows immediately after Christmas and reminds us of  the cost of discipleship. It might  be a sobering event, but Stephen is the most joyous of martyrs. He rushes in where more cautious souls hesitate. His confidence in Jesus is infectious and enviable.
But the murder of a defenseless, innocent man cannot easily be described in cheerful terms. Death by stoning, as we have recently come to know from stories in Afghanistan, is dreadful. It is a mob action, a tearing away of every pretense of civility as people -- presumably both men and  women -- scream curses and insults, push against one another in their rush to get at the victim, grab rocks of every size and hurl them at  the victim, whose death comes slowly and uncertainly. How will they know when he is dead? Surely no doctor will step forward to say, "That's enough now." How long will it continue? I suppose, until the savagery of the crowd has abated. And what on earth could spur them to such violence? That is hard  to imagine. 
Meanwhile, others watched. The young man Saul, a devout scholar of the Law from Tarsus, witnessed the crowd and approved of their action, though he may have been sickened by the experience. Friends and fellow Christians of Stephen watched helplessly. Perhaps some felt "survivor's guilt." Could I have done something to prevent this? Should I have risked my life to defend him? Should I have died with him? But I have family who depend upon me. Why did he do this? Couldn't he have stifled the Spirit for a few minutes, until the crowd calmed down? 

Saint Luke intentionally describes the death of Stephen as a reenactment of Jesus' death:
  • he was filled with the Holy Spirit, like Jesus
  • he saw the heavens opening and the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, as Jesus had predicted before the Sanhedrin (Luke 22:69, and  Ps 110:1Dn 7:1314Acts 7:56.); and
  • the mob covered their ears "lest they hear him" as, when Jesus was arrested a disciple struck off a man's ear, rendering him deaf. 

Luke's narrative also follows the broad outline of the Mass, in that we hear Stephen announce the Word of God before he gives his own body for sacrifice. 

But Saint Stephen's eager joy triumphs over all the horror of the story. On this second day of Christmas we honor Stephen and thank God that he has called some of our best people to follow more closely in the footsteps of Jesus. 

Christmas Day, 2011




Beloved:
When the kindness and generous love
of God our savior appeared,
not because of any righteous deeds we had done
but because of his mercy,
He saved us through the bath of rebirth
and renewal by the Holy Spirit,
whom he richly poured out on us
through Jesus Christ our savior,
so that we might be justified by his grace
and become heirs in hope of eternal life.

This second reading for Christmas “Mass at Dawn” from the Letter of Saint Paul to Titus speaks to the adults in church. It celebrates the work of the Holy Spirit “whom he richly poured out on us.” Saint Paul often reminds his people that God has saved us “not because of any righteous deeds we had done, but because of his mercy...”

That, in a nutshell, is Christmas. Despite much of the worldly hype around the festival, this kernel of truth remains: Christmas is a blessing we have neither earned nor deserved. By most ordinary standards no one should receive gifts; by definition, no one deserves any. And yet we give gifts to celebrate God’s gift to us.
Much of our interaction with one another is touched by our fearfulness, our grief and regret and guilt. These ghosts plague our quiet intimate moments and cloud our smiles. Do they love me? Do they care about me? Have they forgiven me? Do they remember what I did to them? Do they know what I have done? Do they know where I come from?

Receiving gifts helps us to lay aside those fearful thoughts. Sometimes we might even say, “You didn’t have to” or “You shouldn’t have” or “I don’t deserve this.”
To which the giver replies, “But I wanted you to have this.” or “I want to give you this because I love you.”
If it’s a gift, that means I didn’t earn it and I don’t deserve it. I should only say “Thank you.”
Christmas is a gift. Let’s enjoy it.

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Advent



The LORD also reveals to you
that he will establish a house for you.
And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors,
I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins,
and I will make his Kingdom firm.
I will be a father to him,
and he shall be a son to me.
Your house and your Kingdom shall endure forever before me;
your throne shall stand firm forever.

Christians like to echo the confident Jewish trope, “The Word of the Lord endures forever.” I once heard a rabbi explain the kosher rules. They are based in part on Deuteronomy 14:21, “You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.” I suppose the rabbis have some historical explanation for the rule but that would be irrelevant beside the fact that it is God’s law. It must be obeyed.
But what if you live in a place where there are no goats? Can you ignore the law as irrelevant to your situation? Of course not! You must find a way to observe the law because God’s law is life and joy! It is our privilege and pleasure to live by his every statute, ordinance and command. And so the rabbis developed kosher laws. For instance, many Jews never cook meat in the same pan in which they have cooked milk.
This is not scrupulosity; it’s a way to show reverence to God’s word under all circumstances, precisely because “The Word of the Lord endures forever.” If it endures forever it obviously must be observed in every place, circumstance and time.

As Christmas arrives this evening, we hear this morning of God’s promise to King David, “…your kingdom shall endure forever before me.” This too is an eternal word, a promise that cannot fail to be fulfilled.
But some might argue, the kingdom of David was flattened by the Babylonian conquests in 597 and 586 BC. Though it had survived four hundred years since the death of David – a very long time by most standards! – forever is much longer. Is it possible that God’s word ran its course and expired in the sixth century BC?

Christians see God’s word fulfilled and the promise satisfied in the rule of Jesus Christ. By his resurrection and ascension to God’s right hand he has taken his seat upon the throne of David his father. 

Because God has fulfilled his promise to David in Jesus in such a way -- beyond all reasonable expectations and infinitely above anything we deserve -- we trust God's promises: he will forgive our sins and vindicate our virtue; he will call each of us by name from our graves just as he called Lazarus; he will raise us up to eternal bliss and gather us with Mary and all the saints to rejoice in his presence. 

Friday of the Fourth Week of Advent



The recent fall at MSF
Lo, I will send you
Elijah, the prophet,
Before the day of the LORD comes,
the great and terrible day,
To turn the hearts of the fathers to their children,
and the hearts of the children to their fathers,
Lest I come and strike
the land with doom.

In his book Called to Communion, written before he was elected pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger speaks of the necessary and unbreakable link between morality, guilt and expiation. One who violates the moral law is guilty and must make atonement, or expiation. Denying or ignoring one’s guilt does not dissolve the link between them. Excuses, explanations, blaming, rationalizing, and diminishing the seriousness of the offense: none of these erase guilt and none can atone for wrongdoing. Every responsible human being, regardless of culture or background, is subject to the moral code. Claiming a different faith or moral code neither diminishes one’s guilt nor exempts one from its consequences.

The Prophet Elijah -- among the prophets, second only to Moses -- represents this stern law. He is the prophet who appeared with Moses, speaking to Jesus on Mount Tabor. If Moses presents the patient, merciful face of God, Elijah shows his punishing, uncompromising face. He is a terrifying figure in the history of Israel: he called down fire upon an army who were sent to arrest him; he commanded the heavens not to give rain and not a drop fell for three years; he challenged five hundred Canaanite prophets to a ritual dual and when they lost he personally cut their throats. You don't mess with Elijah! His return might be welcome if he is preparing the way for the Messiah, but it is nonetheless dreadful.

Christians understand John the Baptist as Elijah returned. He did not wreak havoc as Elijah had, but his message was fiery and his hearers knew he spoke truly of God’s righteousness. They trekked down to the Jordan River Valley and its muddy stream to hear his preaching, confess their sins and repent. They were happy to discover God's gentle mercy through John's baptism, especially as they recalled Elijah's savage ferocity

In his gospel Saint Luke braids the disparate stories of Jesus’ and John’s birth into an unbreakable cable. The high point of this narrative is not the birth of Jesus but the meeting of Elizabeth and Mary, when the unborn Baptist dances for joy at the coming of the Messiah while the women sing God's praises. 

Our salvation is also braided with our readiness to confess our guilt and make atonement. We know that by ourselves it is impossible. Our sins are too great; our merits too weak. But Jesus has offered himself in expiation for us; we have only to bring ourselves to his self-sacrifice to be swept into that redeeming whirlwind of mercy. Come, let us worship.

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Advent

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/122211.cfm


He has shown the strength of his arm,
and has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich he has sent away empty.
"Patroness of Captive Nations"


During the past three years we have watched a chthonic movement of anger surface from both right and left ends of the political spectrum. The Tea Party movement and the Occupy movement have claimed to represent the real people, the overburdened middle classes and the forgotten underclasses. The response, inadequate but not without effect, has insisted there are no classes in America and claims class oppression and class warfare are suspiciously un-American. 
They identify class struggle with Karl Marx and would purge our language of his insights. But other philosophers claim that since Communism has been both defeated and disgraced we can finally begin to examine Marxist thought more dispassionately. Perhaps he was onto something as he identified the ways in which the powerful manipulate "the System" to keep themselves in power. 


The Bible never speaks of classes: rich, poor or middle. But it knows injustice, which begins with infidelity to God and appears as severe inequity between the rich and poor. Saint Luke's Gospel seems especially aware of the gap between the rich and poor. Where Matthew's Jesus blesses the "poor in spirit," (Matt 5:3) Luke's Jesus simply blesses the poor (Luke 6:20). The unbridgeable gulf between the rich man and Lazarus was set not by God but by the unfortunate rich man who languishes in parched torment. The story ends with his profound, intractable ignorance of God's ways and his endless, unmitigated suffering. (Luke 16:14-24) Yes, Virginia, there really is a Hell. 


Mary's Magnificat, from Saint Luke's Gospel, also celebrates God's preference for the lowly, hungry and despised. It describes a young woman, invisible to Roman and Jewish authorities, who sings for joy at the irresistible advance of God's just mercy and merciful justice.


Despite the restricting control of many authorities, Mary still speaks to the poor, disenchanted and disenfranchised. I remember my own shock when I visited the Catholic Church in Cherokee, North Carolina and saw a stained glass window with Our Lady of Guadalupe and her title, "Patroness of Captive Nations." (I've linked a photo to this page.) 


This unrest is embedded deeply in our religion. Although it has political and economic significance, it is essentially spiritual. God will never let Christians be satisfied with the way things are in our world; he will remind us continually that our systems have forgotten someone. 


So long as there is sin there is injustice and only the Mercy of God can deliver us. But even that formula cannot excuse our inaction. We can only hope that our prayers with Mary for the coming of the Savior will liberate us from our privileges and lead us in her impoverished path of joyful freedom. 


Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Advent

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/122111.cfm


Hark! my lover--here he comes
springing across the mountains,
leaping across the hills.
My lover is like a gazelle
or a young stag.
Here he stands behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
peering through the lattices.
My lover speaks; he says to me,
"Arise, my beloved, my dove, my beautiful one,
and come!



It is always risky to introduce the topic of eroticism to religious  people. Eros is too hard to manage, too destructive, and often downright terrifying. Some of us have had really bad experience with it, leaving only memories of shame and regret. Besides that, many religious people have outgrown and lost interest in their erotic impulse a long time ago. If it is still there it's usually overcome by weariness and blessed sleep. 
But religion is not only for old people; some young people show occasional interests and they might be fascinated to learn of God's erotic interest in us. 
I might add that Christmas is not entirely a children's celebration. If the yuletide ads for furs, jewelry and perfume mean anything, they indicate a lot of people have an erotic interest in Christmas. That extravagant gifts might lead to the conception of children seems of secondary interest to both consumers and merchants. 


The appearance of today's first reading from the Song of Songs during this high holy season indicates the Roman Church has not entirely lost its fascination with the erotic traditions in our Bible. We often hear God described as the passionate, jealous lover of  Jerusalem, and Jerusalem as the disinterested paramour with severe ADHD. The prophets describe God as provoked beyond all reasonable bounds by Jerusalem's adulterous behavior. We hear of his desperate intentions to lead her into the desert, to strip  her of the gifts he has given her, to abandon her to the barbarous nations, to starve her into submission, and so forth. And yet, the prophets insist, he cannot abandon her. His love is too great; his word, too strong. 
Occasionally, we also hear of her readiness  to turn back to God and welcome his embrace. 


And then there are the sensuous verses of the Song  of Songs when the lovers seek and find one another.  They seem like children playing games of  hide and seek, but with adult emotions of excitement, arousal and dreamy languor. 


The Spirit of Christmas is steeped in the eroticism of  ancient, passionate memories of God. The Virgin Jerusalem is as desirable as ever; the Immaculate Heart of Mary still beckons, and the Church still prays with intense fervor for a consummate bliss beyond all description. 

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Advent

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/122011.cfm


Farewell to Victoria BC --
the last of my October vacation
photos

Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign:
the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and shall name him Emmanuel.

Scripture scholars are quick to point out that Isaiah's original Hebrew word meant maiden or young woman, and not virgin in the sense we use it today, a woman with no sexual experience. But that factoid misses the point; Saint Matthew and Saint Luke wanted us to understand Mary's virginity has many dimensions and multiple meanings: 

First, we celebrate her innocence. We celebrate the Immaculate Heart of Mary and recall the Beatitude: Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God. (Matt 5:8) Mary has truly seen God face to face. She has borne him, and nursed him at her breast, cleaned and clothed him, prayed and played with him. She taught him how to be a good boy and child of God, to speak the language of her people and to revere their traditions. She has seen God face to face even in his agony, as he died upon the cross. 
A woman recently told me of her suffering as she listened to her son. He had recently suffered a personal tragedy and abruptly been transferred to a distant city. She could not see him or touch him; she could only cling to his voice by telephone. Sometimes his pain was so intense he could only text her. Her heart was breaking for him and she could only listen and listen again as the difficult days and weeks passed. I had to think of this wonderful mother as our own dear Mother Mary. She too agonized with her son as he endured God’s heartbreak beyond the walls of Jerusalem.

Mary’s innocent purity perfects the fidelity of the Jewish nation throughout their long historic covenant with God. The child of Joachim and Anna (according to ancient tradition), she is the glory of Jerusalem, the great pride of Israel, the great boast of the nation! (see Judith 15:9) 

Secondly, Mary’s virginity speaks of her desirability. Her innocence, beauty and intense piety are so charming that God must answer her prayers when she begs him to send the Messiah.  
Ah, you are beautiful, my love;
   ah, you are beautiful;
   your eyes are doves.
Ah, you are beautiful, my beloved,
   truly lovely.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
   and come away.
O my dove, in the clefts of the rock,
   in the covert of the cliff,
let me see your face,
   let me hear your voice;
for your voice is sweet,
   and your face is lovely.
  (Song of Songs)

Finally, Mary’s virginity is fertile, but there are two senses to this: first we honor fertility as potentially abundant. Fertile soil can bear a rich harvest, and a fertile woman can have many children. Mary's fertile virginity will bear innumerable children as Jesus commands her from the cross to "Behold your son" in each of us. 
Secondly, her virgin fertility is miraculous, as she will bear the Son of God who has no human father. In her story we hear the words of the Prophet Isaiah fulfilled: 

Sing, O barren one who did not bear;
   burst into song and shout,
   you who have not been in labor!
For the children of the desolate woman will be more
   than the children of her that is married, says the Lord.
 Enlarge the site of your tent,
   and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
do not hold back; lengthen your cords
   and strengthen your stakes.
 For you will spread out to the right and to the left,
   and your descendants will possess the nations
   and will settle the desolate towns.
 (Isaiah 54: 1-3)

During the first weeks of Advent we did penance with prayers, fasting and almsgiving. We are ready now to hear the Good News:
Look, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
   bounding over the hills.
9 My beloved is like a gazelle
   or a young stag.
Look, there he stands
   behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows,
   looking through the lattice.
10 My beloved speaks and says to me:
‘Arise, my love, my fair one,
   and come away;
11 for now the winter is past,
   the rain is over and gone.
12 The flowers appear on the earth;
   the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtle-dove
   is heard in our land.  
(Song of Songs)

Monday of the Fourth Week of Advent




for nothing will be impossible for God
You will have joy and gladness and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.

Christians – and this Christian in particular – have a tendency to bleakness. Sometimes we forget to rejoice. Aware of our sins and seemingly defeated by them, we have a hard time making the necessary stretch of faith that will free us from anxiety. In fact, occasionally, we take a furtive pleasure in our dourness, saying, “Well at least I take my faith seriously!”
But, as Qoheleth says, “There is a time to weep and a time to laugh;” and the wise know the time. This final season of Advent, as we hear the O-antiphons preceding the proclamation of the gospel, and as we hear the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke, is a time for rejoicing.
We can do no better than to read from the Gospel according to Saint Luke for his especially is the Gospel of Joy. There are hardly any shadows in its opening chapters. The only unfortunate note (which is often overplayed), is Jesus’ birth in a manger, “because there was no room for them in the inn.” But that made him easier to find when the shepherds came looking for him, and God wants above all to be available to us.

The angel gets it right when he tells the shepherds, “Do not be afraid for behold I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

In a nutshell: Do not be afraid to rejoice! Nothing can go wrong; everything is in God’s hands; and God is still in charge. Why would anyone worry who has confidence in God? Who would not rejoice knowing God’s victory cannot be frustrated or delayed.
Inevitably we’re disappointed when our expectations don’t pan out. Our sadness in those moments only reminds us of who is God and who is not. And that realization expresses the very essence of human life; “I am not God; thank God!”
Do not be afraid to rejoice. In this holy season critics will still find reason to complain. As the little girl said, “Almost perfect, but not quite.” But we rejoice “in the sure and certain hope” that we will rise with him on the last day, and all will be well, all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.